As the heat of Middle East turmoil radiates down one’s spine due to fear of its replication in South Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan make desperate efforts to strengthen their hedge against a global system of insurgent-terrorist outfits. The first round of high profile cross visits by the two countries has broken some ground in this regard. Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta, National Security Adviser to Afghanistan, visited Islamabad on June 26, 2014 in response to an earlier visit by Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, Mehmood Achakzai to solicit Afghanistan’s support for the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan, in the context of improving border management.

Dr Spanta delivered President Karzai’s letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Karzai wrote: “I will cooperate on the condition that, (1) all terrorists are targeted without discrimination, (2) civilians are not harmed in the fight against terror, (3) Pakistan releases all detained Afghan Taliban leaders who support peace in Afghanistan, (4) all terrorist hideouts and support centres are eliminated, (5) Pakistan stops artillery shelling on Afghan territory, (6) Pakistan and Afghanistan coordinate their anti-terrorism efforts with important regional nations like India and China, (7) there should be a roadmap for bilateral coordination and contact to take the war on terror forward.”

Earlier, when the two rounds of elections took place in Afghanistan, Pakistan took extraordinary measures to secure the borders with additional military deployment and controlled illicit movement. This contributed towards peaceful elections. This has been acknowledged by Afghanistan as well as the international community. Now Pakistan is conducting an operation to eliminate terrorism; and it is in Afghanistan’s own interest to cooperate. Pakistan has asked Afghanistan to take necessary measures on its side of the border to stop terrorists fleeing North Waziristan from entering Afghan territory.

The North Waziristan military operation, Zarb-e-Azb, is likely to cast its effect on both countries; and unless there is close coordination between the two, the results of this operation will be short-lived, fragile and reversible. The two sides have agreed to establish a Joint Working Group on Security. A bilateral meeting of relevant officials will be held in Islamabad on July 3rd, to enhance security coordination.

The main focus of talks so far, was on strengthening bilateral security cooperation and building a comprehensive bilateral relationship marked by enhanced trade and economic partnership. There was a convergence of opinion to take action against all terrorists without making any distinction amongst them and their hideouts on their respective sides. The Pakistani side reaffirmed providing all-out support to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. It was agreed to further strengthen bilateral engagement at all levels. This is not the first and probably not the last time, that respective, oft repeated positions have been reiterated.

The devil, however, lies in implementation; and taming this devil is easier said than done. One has to be mindful that some of these positions are mythical, hence difficult to achieve; some other positions state only the end’s objectives while there is a need to agree to a common strategy and joint plan of action.

The recently released Fragile States Index (FSI) by the “Foreign Policy” magazine and “The Fund for Peace” has placed both countries in the top-ten most fragile states around the world. The report has placed both countries on high-alert. The Fragility States Index, previously known as the Failed States Index, takes an annual overview of countries and ranks them in terms of stability (or lack thereof). With ‘stability’ being the catchword, the status is indeed highly alarming not only from domestic and foreign policy perspectives but also from an economic perspective. Any meaningful in-flow of FDI will only begin when Pakistan’s image ratings improve. Likewise, steep fall in the GDP growth of Afghanistan from 14 to 4 percent needs similar enablers.

The alarming aspect of the military operation in North Waziristan is humanitarian ; that of internally and externally displaced persons in both countries. The tally has crossed the mark of 0.8 million and is counting. The Pakistan government is planning to release the first tranche’ of Rs. 500 million for the rehabilitation of IDPs, and the Prime Minster has set up a special fund seeking private donations. Hopefully, the reported incidents of mismanagement in IDP camps will be short-lived. International aid is forthcoming. The United States has contributed an additional $8 million to help the Pakistani government meet the food and nutritional needs of IDPs. USAID is now the largest international donor to the programme, providing a total of $31 million in support. All funds should be put to good use, and vigil must be maintained against resource pilferage and managerial corruption. Pakistan has extensive experience of handling refugees of a much larger scale. As there is no capacity issue, optimum efficiency should be sustained to cater for the needs of rapidly increasing numbers.

Pakistan must give itself a strict time-frame for an honourable return of the displaces persons after the operation ends. Additional assistance from the international community should be sought. Hopefully, the Prime Minister’s visit to IDP camps will put things on track. His commitment to appropriately resource the effort was reassuring to say the least.

While Afghanistan is experiencing a rise in insurgent attacks, Kabul has routinely pointed fingers at Islamabad and accused it of being behind most incidents. Pakistan has rubbished allegations by Afghanistan that its servicemen disguised in civilian clothes were conducting attacks in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar. “We reject these baseless allegations…The fact is that Pakistan armed forces have been attacked repeatedly by terrorists operating from Afghan territory. Our armed forces have acted only in self-defence, with maximum restraint and responsibility,” foreign ministry spokesperson said in a recent statement. Now, both countries should follow the joint action plan to counter a common problem. Kabul must come out of denial and playing blame games, and confront the issue at hand. A good starting point will be introducing professional practices of managing the border.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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